Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Satellites and seafood: China keeps fishing fleet connected in disputed waters link

China may struggle to enforce new fishing rules issued to restrict fishing by foreign vessels in disputed areas of the South China Sea.

From Reuters by John Ruwitch

On China's southern Hainan island, a fishing boat captain shows a Reuters reporter around his aging vessel.
He has one high-tech piece of kit, however: a satellite navigation system that gives him a direct link to the Chinese coastguard should he run into bad weather or a Philippine or Vietnamese patrol ship when he's fishing in the disputed South China Sea.

 Hainan island with the Marine GeoGarage

By the end of last year, China's homegrown Beidou satellite system had been installed on more than 50,000 Chinese fishing boats, according to official media.
On Hainan, China's gateway to the South China Sea, boat captains have paid no more than 10 percent of the cost.
The government has paid the rest.

China has a lot of fishermen—with 695,555 vessels, its commercial fishing fleet is more than double the size (pdf, pg. 36) of the next biggest, from Japan.
That’s primarily because China eats a lot of fish per capita, and catches more fish than any other country in the world by a huge margin.

It's a sign of China's growing financial support for its fishermen as they head deeper into Southeast Asian waters in search of new fishing grounds as stocks thin out closer to home.

Hainan authorities encourage fishermen to sail to disputed areas, the captain and several other fishermen told Reuters during interviews in the sleepy port of Tanmen.
Government fuel subsidies make the trips possible, they added.

That has put Chinese fishing boats - from privately owned craft to commercial trawlers belonging to publicly listed companies - on the frontlines of one of Asia's flashpoints.
Most recently, they were a fixture around a Chinese oil rig positioned in disputed waters off Vietnam, where they jostled and collided with Vietnamese fishing boats for more than two months until China withdrew the drilling platform in mid-July.

50,000 Chinese fishing boats are now equipped with a satellite navigation system, this system gives the fishermen a direct link to the Chinese coastguard in case of bad weather.
This new system can also show when a Philippine or Vietnamese patrol ship is nearby, helping the fisherman go further into the South China Sea.
Illustration: Adolfo Arranz

Explanations for China's assertiveness in the South China Sea usually focus on the strategic significance of the waterway, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes each year, or Beijing's goal to increase its offshore oil and gas output.

Rarely mentioned is the importance of seafood to the Chinese diet, several experts said. A 2014 report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), for example, said China's per-capita fish consumption was 35.1 kg in 2010, nearly double the global average of 18.9 kg.

"Fish products are just so critical to China's way of life. I think this is something most people haven't factored into the equation when they've looked at these conflicts and disputes," said Alan Dupont, a professor of international security at the University of New South Wales in Australia.
"It's pretty clear that the Chinese fishing fleet is being encouraged to fish in disputed waters. I think that's now become policy as distinct from an opportunistic thing, and that the government is encouraging its fishing fleet to do this for geopolitical as well as economic and commercial reasons."

Distress signal

With 16 Chinese satellites in orbit above the Asia-Pacific at the end of 2012 and more planned, the 19-month-old Beidou system is a rival to the dominant U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS) and Russia's GLONASS. China's military is already a big user of Beidou, or Big Dipper.

It's unclear how often Chinese fishermen use Beidou to seek help. None of the fishermen Reuters interviewed in Tanmen said they had sent a distress call.
But fishermen could use the system to alert authorities if they had mechanical trouble or had a run-in with foreign maritime agencies, Chinese official media has said.

The push of an emergency button sends a message straight to the Chinese authorities, which because Beidou actively transmits location data, could pinpoint the exact whereabouts of a vessel.
Beidou's unique short messaging system also allows users to communicate with other fishermen, family or friends.
When Philippine authorities boarded a Chinese fishing vessel in May in a contested reef in the Spratlys, one of the region's main island chains, they quickly turned off the Beidou system, China's official Xinhua news agency said at the time.
A senior Philippine police official disputed that report, saying the boat had no satellite tracking device. Nine Chinese fishermen from the boat are awaiting trial in the Philippines for catching endangered turtles.
Zhang Jie, deputy director of the Hainan Maritime Safety Administration, a government agency, said he did not have accurate information on Beidou usage but added that fishermen were encouraged to fish in any waters that belonged to China.
At the same time, Zhang told Reuters he did not believe the government wanted them to seek conflict with other countries.
Other authorities in Hainan, such as the provincial fisheries office and the bureau which enforces fishing regulations, did not respond to requests for comment. Nor did the China Satellite Navigation Office, which runs Beidou.
The Foreign Ministry along with the State Oceanic Administration, which has overall civilian responsibility for maritime affairs including the coastguard and fishing vessels, also did not respond to requests for comment.

Xi backs fishermen

Since President Xi Jinping took power in March last year, Beijing has increasingly flexed its muscles in the South China Sea.
China claims 90 percent of the 3.5 million sq km (1.35 million sq mile) waterway, with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also claiming parts of the ocean.
China sent its sole aircraft carrier through the South China Sea for the first time in late 2013 while its coastguard has sought to block the Philippine navy from re-supplying a military outpost on a reef claimed by Manila in the Spratlys.

While some of China's actions have alarmed other claimants and drawn criticism from Washington, such as the placement of the oil rig off Vietnam, China says it has every right to conduct what it calls normal operations in its waters.

Only weeks after becoming president, Xi made what state media called a surprise visit to Tanmen, where he told fishermen the government would do more to protect them when they were in disputed waters.
Xi never elaborated, but a huge billboard near the port commemorates his visit, showing a picture of the president flanked by grinning fishermen with trawlers in the background.

Several fishermen from separate boats said the Hainan authorities encouraged fishing as far away as the Spratlys, roughly 1,100 km (670 miles) to the south.
The boat captain said he would head there as soon as his vessel underwent routine repairs.
"I've been there many times," said the captain, who like the other fishermen declined to be identified because he was worried about repercussions for discussing sensitive maritime issues with a foreign journalist.
Another fisherman, relaxing in a hammock on a boat loaded with giant clam shells from the Spratlys, said captains received fuel subsidies for each journey.
For a 500 horsepower engine, a captain could get 2,000-3,000 yuan ($320-$480) a day, he said.
"The government tells us where to go and they pay fuel subsidies based on the engine size," said the fisherman.
Added one weather-beaten captain: "The authorities support fishing in the South China Sea to protect China's sovereignty."

To be sure, they have other reasons to make the journey.
A study by the State Oceanic Administration said in October 2012 that fish stocks along the Chinese coast were in decline.
"Right now I would say competition for fishing resources is the main cause of tensions between China and regional countries," said Zhang Hongzhou, associate research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

 Fishing boats at a port in the city of Dongfang
on the western side of China's island province of Hainan - Pict by Reuters

David versus Goliath

At least one big Chinese fishing company is also flying the flag in disputed waters and benefiting from government assistance.
In late February, Shanghai-listed Shandong Homey Aquatic Development Co Ltd, which has annual seafood sales of $150 million, announced the launch of eight new 55-metre long (180-ft) trawlers from the port city of Dongfang on Hainan.
On its website, it said the move was a "response to the government's call to develop the South China Sea and safeguard national sovereignty".
Six weeks later, the Dongfang city government said Shandong Homey would get 2 million yuan ($322,500) for each boat in "renovation" grants, according to its website. Dongfang officials declined to comment.
Shandong Homey might need the money for repairs.

Vietnam airs video of Chinese ship ramming fishing boat

In late May, Vietnam's government accused a Chinese trawler of ramming and sinking a small Vietnamese wooden fishing boat near the Chinese oil rig in an incident captured on video.
China said the Vietnamese boat was being aggressive.
While footage of the May 26 incident is too blurry for the naked eye to determine the number on the Chinese ship's hull, Vietnam's coastguard said it was #11209.
Dang Van Nhan, 42, the captain of the sunken boat and who was rescued along with nine crew, told Reuters during an interview in the coastal Vietnamese city of Danang that it was #11202, saying he got a clear look.

The Dongfang city government website lists vessels #11209 and #11202 and six others as Shandong Homey's eight new boats.
In the Dongfang harbor, several Shandong Homey boats lay anchored including vessels #11209 and #11202. Both have the same features as the trawler in the video.

Shandong Homey declined telephone and email requests to comment.
One crew member at the port said the fleet returned to Dongfang in early June but then refused to say anything more.
Several Shandong Homey employees later surrounded a Reuters reporter and demanded to know why he was asking about the boats.
They then turned him over to police, who briefly detained him.
($1 = 6.2025 Chinese Yuan)

Links : 
  • National Interest : China’s 50,000 Secret Weapons in the South China Sea
  • Asia's Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific (book by Robert D. Kaplan)


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

How Lego figures and rubber ducks reveal ocean secrets link

A quick animation of possible paths of First Year plastic bath toys.
Places where ducks stop before end of animation are locations where bath toys were recovered from beaches.
Background is a map of long term average currents in the Pacific.
Not based on numerical models etc.
Just hand animated based on currents and locations of found toys to illustrate the principles, not the details.

From BBC by Richard Fisher

Weird and wonderful objects washed up on the world's beaches shed more light on the workings of the ocean currents than you might think.

Marooned on an island, if you threw a message-in-a-bottle into the ocean, would you be saved?
The answer, according to researchers, depends on where you are.

An interactive map shows how floating objects dropped into the ocean travel over the years.
So drop a bottle off the east coast of the US, for example, and if you’re lucky, it may have reached France, Spain or North Africa after a couple of years – but equally it could have turned around and been trapped in an ocean gyre circling around the centre of the Atlantic.

Objects can flow around the ocean for years or even decades before they reach shore.
In April, a message-in-a-bottle turned up off the coast of Norway after a staggering 101 years at sea.
Decade-plus journeys aren’t unusual.
On New York beaches, for instance, passers-by have reported finding treasure that appears to have been away from land for years, including unusual animal bones, dentures and even a robot hand.
And this week BBC Magazine reported on how tiny pieces of Lego have been continually washing up on the shores of Cornwall in the UK since 1997.

 Lego has been washing up on a Cornwall beach for more than a decade (PA)

These strange objects enter the sea via beach litter, rivers and shipping containers lost overboard.
Not only do they provide a curious and occasionally disturbing record of humanity’s effects in this era, they can also provide researchers with surprising insights into the vast ocean currents that sweep the globe.
A 2014 survey by the World Shipping Council suggests around 2,683 containers were lost at sea per year between 2011 and 2013.
The real figure could well be more, as many go unreported and no single database keeps track.

Perhaps the most famous case of drifting ephemera was a fleet of more than 28,000 rubber ducks and other bath toys, known as the Friendly Floatees.
The ducks accidentally fell into the Pacific from a container ship en route from China to Seattle in 1992, and were tracked by the oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmayer, who called on beachcombers to report sightings.
The Floatees spent over a decade circling on the sea.
What was perhaps most striking was just how far the ducks travelled, with some ending up in Europe and Hawaii, and confirmed sightings continued until at least the mid-2000s.
(See the path the rubber ducks took here.)
This hinted that floating objects take a much longer journey between oceans than previously realized.

Where objects dropped off the French Atlantic coast could end up in 10 years.
Click here to explore what happens in other oceans (Erik Van Sebille)

 Migration routes and landing events of the friendly floatees compiled by seos.

In 2012, Erik van Sebille of the University of New South Wales in Australia and colleagues confirmed this suspicion by using a network of around 20,000 satellite-tracked ‘drifter’ buoys.
They found that there are six major patches of plastic garbage in the oceans: five in the subtropical seas, and one more high up in the Arctic Barents Sea that was previously unknown.
And crucially, this work revealed how the plastic migrates between the patches over long timescales.
“They are much more connected than ever envisioned,” he says.
“They leak.”
This research inspired them to create their interactive map.

According to van Sebille, in some regions of the North Pacific there's potentially more weight in plastic than there is in life.
A lot is too buoyant to sink. “It’s almost like the turd that won’t flush,” he laughs.
Contrary to popular belief, however, the stuff does not exist as giant islands.
It is dispersed and much of it is ‘microplastic’ – tiny, eroded fragments – and so it’d be near-impossible to go out there and sweep it up.
The danger to wildlife is clear.

Since most of this circulating material does not decompose easily, eventually it may even wind up in the rock record, deposited on beaches or in the deep ocean inside fish poo after they have digested it.
Indeed, US researchers recently described a new type of solid rock found in Hawaii containing plastic bags, rope and bottle tops.
They called it “plastiglomerate”.

In the far future, then, geologists curious about 21st Century human beings will likely wander up to an outcrop, and discover coloured chunks of plastic embedded within.
Peer closer, and they might even get lucky and find whole objects, such a Barbie arm, a pair of dentures – or even a message-in-a-bottle.

Links :
  • io9 :​ Track the path of any object drifting on the ocean
  • BBC : The Cornish beaches where Lego keeps washing up 
  • The Telegraph : Millions of tiny Lego pieces lost at sea more than 17 years ago are still washing up on Cornish beaches
  • GeoGarage blog : It's amazing what a duck can teach you


Monday, July 28, 2014

Boom! There goes the neighborhood link

Atlantic Geological and Geophysical (G&G) Activities
Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS)

From OneEarth by Jason Bittel

The Obama administration has agreed to allow the oil and gas industry to conduct seismic testing in the Atlantic Ocean.
This is a terrible idea.

Suppose someone was detonating a stick of dynamite in your neighborhood.
Every 10 to 12 seconds.
For days and weeks and months on end.
Maybe you could just ignore the noise. BOOM. Or maybe you’d go a little crazy.
Maybe you lose your appetite. BOOM. And stop trying to ask your kids how their day went. BOOM.
Maybe you start walking in circles. BOOM. Or get lost.
And good luck getting your significant other BOOM to cuddle up and BOOM relax for a little BOOM romantic BOOM fun BOOM time.

Annoying, isn’t it?
But guess what—that’s what life will be like for marine mammals in the Atlantic Ocean now that the Obama Administration has re-opened the East Coast, from Delaware to Florida, to offshore oil and gas exploration.
With ban on offshore drilling in the Atlantic expiring in 2017, seismic testing could begin as early as next year.

What’s the connection between wells and whales?
In a word, noise.
To find deposits buried deep below the seafloor, the oil and gas industry trawls the ocean with powerful airgun arrays.
These cannons sound off every 10 to 12 seconds, recording the acoustic vibrations that bounce back as a way to map the sea bottom.
An engineer for the American Petroleum Institute euphemistically likens the practice to “a sonogram of the Earth.”

Riiiiighhhht …
We use sonograms to check in on fetuses because the sound waves do them no harm.
We conduct them in quiet, dark rooms causing little discomfort other than a squirt of cold jelly on the mom’s tummy.
So let me ask you, does this look like a sonogram?

Acoustic noise, whether it’s seismic testing for oil and gas or sonar exercises conducted by the Navy, creates what some biologists call an “acoustic smog.”
This smog interferes with the way marine mammals perceive the world. In a way, it’s like they go blind.
Whales use sound to eat, hunt, find mates, navigate, and communicate with their young and the rest of their pod.
Sonic booms jeopardize all of those activities.

Josh Horwitz describes how two civilian men took on the United States Navy
to protect the fate of the most majestic creatures of the oceans.

National Geographic reports that the government's own estimates have the noise pollution injuring (potentially killing) more than 138,000 marine mammals, and disrupting the migration, feeding, and reproductive behaviors for 13.6 million others.
Seismic testing produces a cacophony nearly on par with exploding dynamite.
In fact, the industry actually used to employ dynamite in its search for undersea oil and gas deposits before airguns became a safer alternative.
(Safer for workers, that is. Not whales.)

 Behavioural Responses of Australian Humpback whales to Seismic Surveys (BRAHSS)

“Whales use sound for virtually everything they do to survive and reproduce in the wild,” says Michael Jasny, a marine mammal expert with NRDC (which publishes OnEarth), “and when we make sounds on the order of an industrial seismic survey, we are fundamentally compromising the foundation on which marine life depends.”
And it’s not just about the nearby booms.
Sonic waves pervade through entire ocean basins.
In one study, scientists found that a single seismic test can drown out the low-frequency calls of endangered baleen whales for 10,000 square nautical miles—that’s larger than the state of West Virginia.
Worse still, airguns can make endangered fin and humpback whales fall silent over areas of the ocean 10 times larger than that.

The science behind seismic testing in our oceans (Oceana)

OK, so a whale’s survival and sense of serenity doesn’t tug at your heartstrings, but you should know that opening up the East Coast to offshore drilling would hit you in your stomach, too.
Seismic surveys, studies show, negatively affect the fishing industry, reducing catch rates for cod, haddock, and rockfish.
And I don’t need to remind you that the fossil fuels we haul out of the ocean exacerbate climate change, right?
Offshore drilling, lest we forget, also risks oil spills that devastate whale, fish, and human communities.
"The use of seismic airguns is [the] first step to expanding dirty and dangerous offshore drilling to the Atlantic Ocean, bringing us one step closer to another disaster like the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill," Claire Douglass of Oceana told the Balitimore Sun.

Now that the path to drilling in the Atlantic is open, the fight to save marine life would require stopping oil and gas companies from getting permits for seismic testing and eventually, drilling.
And if that doesn’t work, environmentalists might have to appeal to the courts.
Remember, the oil and gas industry isn’t the only one who knows how to bring the noise.
BOOM go lawsuits, too.

Links :
  • The Guardian : Whales under threat as US approves seismic oil prospecting in Atlantic
  • Southern Studies : The money behind Big Oil's win on Atlantic drilling
  • Huffington Post : Obama Administration to Whales, Dolphins: You Go Deaf, We'll Get Oil
  • Newsweek : Whales are being killed by noise pollution
  • Scientific America : Does military sonar kill marine wildlife?
  • OceanLeadership : Research into marine mammals’ responses to sound


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Hide and seek link


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Canada CHS nautical chart layer : caution with vertical clearances

Message from Director of CHS Products and Services (25/07/2014)


The Canadian Hydrographic Service (CHS) would like to let you know of that the vertical clearances on charts and equivalent BSB are inaccurate :

1313 Batiscan au/to Lac Saint-Pierre
1314 Donnacona à/to Batiscan
4026 Havre Saint-Pierre et/and Cap des Rosiers à/to Pointe des Monts
4275 St. Peters Bay
2250 Bruce Mines to/à Sugar Island
2283-1, 2283-2 Owen Sound to/à Giant's Tomb Island
4266 Sydney Harbour
4201 Halifax Harbour - Bedford Basin

Notships will be issued shortly.
Notmar will be issued in the next edition.


TP-52 worlds in Sardinia

TP 52 Worlds -- filmed by Drone from Pigeon Vision

Winds were 8-13 knots : TP52 World Championship, June 11 in Porto Cervo


Friday, July 25, 2014

Deep sea mining licences issued link

Hydrothermal Vents: What does the future hold?
Since being discovered in 1977, Hydrothermal Vents have been a source of huge interest, due to their rich diversity and huge populations of new and specialised species in a comparatively baron and homogenous abyss.
The mineral rich chimneys spew out a sulphurous fluid which forms an energy source for microbes, forming the base of these fascinating and unique ecosystems.
Their isolation and mysterious interconnectivity reveals a fragile web of life that still has so much more left to be fully appreciated.
The vents have also caught the attention of deep-sea mining contractors.

30 years on from their initial discovery, the global population has doubled and commodity prices have increased.
Now, with new technological advances, deep-sea mining has become an imminent reality.
Specialist researcher, Dr Jon Copley, talks through his experiences with Hydrothermal Vents and how irresponsible and short-sighted mining practices may have potentially catastrophic consequences on an ecosystem we still do not fully understand.

From BBC by David Shukman

Vast new areas of the ocean floor have been opened up in an accelerating search for valuable minerals including manganese, copper and gold.

In a move that brings closer a new era of deep sea mining, the UN's International Seabed Authority (ISA) has issued seven new exploration licences.
State-owned and private companies from India, Brazil, Singapore and Russia are among those to land permission for minerals prospecting.
One British firm, UK Seabed Resources, a subsidiary of the US defence giant Lockheed Martin, has secured exploration rights to an area larger than the entire UK.

 For decades, the idea of mining these deposits was dismissed as unfeasible

This means that the total area of seabed now licensed in this new gold rush has reached an immense 1.2 million square kilometres under 26 different permits for minerals prospecting.
Deep sea mining is a new frontier in the quest for the precious raw materials needed for modern economies but environmental groups have long warned of the potential damage to marine ecosystems.
Mining the ocean floor was first investigated in the 1960s but only recently have technological advances - spurred by the oil and gas industry - and high prices for resources combined to make operations feasible.

The ISA was set up to manage the exploitation of the ocean floor beyond territorial limits to prevent a free-for-all and has so far only issued licences for exploration.
The first permits for exploitation could come in the next few years.

Nodules are a target for extraction - these small lumps of rock contain high proportions of metals

Michael Lodge of the ISA told the BBC: "There's definitely growing interest. Most of the latest group are commercial companies so they're looking forward to exploitation in a reasonably short time - this move brings that closer."
Still to be negotiated are the conditions and rules for actual mining.

Sustainable Seabed Mining: A New Concept For Atlantis II Deep

A protocol to minimise the environmental impact is still being drawn up.
And arrangements for royalties to be paid to developing and landlocked countries have yet to be settled - a basic principle of the ISA is that seabed riches should be shared globally.
Two of the new licences - for German and Indian organisations - cover deep ocean ridges where hydrothermal vents have created potentially rich deposits.

Dr Jon Copley of the University of Southampton, a marine biologist, has monitored the development of deep sea mining amid concerns about its possible effects on the natural world.
"In total, about 6,000 km of mid-ocean ridge in international waters are now being explored for potential seafloor mining. In total, around 7.5% of the global mid-ocean ridge - the geological backbone of our planet - is now being explored for its mineral wealth.
"Ridges are one of the three deep-sea environments where there are mineral deposits attracting interest, in this case for the metal ores that form at deep-sea vents along the ridges.
"But those vents are also home to colonies of some species that aren't found in other deep ocean environments, which may make them susceptible to environmental impacts from mining."

UK Seabed Resources, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin UK, in partnership with the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, has received a licence and contract to explore a 58,000 sq kilometre area of the Pacific for mineral-rich polymetallic nodules.

UK Seabed Resources (UKSRL) conducted a baseline environmental survey of its licence area in the Pacific last October.

Construction of a seafloor mining machine was completed in the UK

It is hoping to extract so-called nodules from the ocean floor - small lumps of rock which contain far higher proportions of metals than ores found on land.
Duncan Cunningham of UKSRL said the company remained "committed to environmentally responsible, transparent and commercially sound development of the area".
He added: "We were extremely pleased to have had the opportunity to present details of our first environmental baseline cruise to the ISA and other stakeholders."

Deep-Ocean Vents Power Plant (Marshall Hydrothermal)

The first seabed mine is likely to be in the waters off Papua New Guinea.
In a deal arranged outside the ISA system, a Canadian company, Nautilus Minerals, plans to extract metals from a field of hydrothermal vents.
The project was delayed for years by a dispute with the PNG government but terms have now been finalised and huge robotic mining machines are being constructed.

Links :
  • BBC : UK Seabed Resources joins deep-ocean mineral-mining rush
  • TheGuardian : Seabed mining could earn Cook Islands 'tens of billions of dollars'